Accessible Home: Creating a Home for Barrier Free Living
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Purchasing, building, or renovating your home to fit your needs and eliminate barriers can be a big investment. The Canadian Government has implemented many programs and services that will assist in the process of buying; renovating or adapting your home to best fit your needs. Creating a house that is barrier-free, accessible, and accommodates all individuals living in the home is important. Houses can easily be modified to be accessible. Here are some useful tips on how you can make your home accessible and where to start:
Universal design: Homes can always be changed to accommodate people’s needs. An accessible home that is designed, constructed or modified to meet the needs of people will “be safer and more accommodating to the people who live in these homes”. Creating an “effective accessible design and construction can allow people with disabilities live in an accessible home that fits their needs. Adapting a home to fit the needs of people with disabilities extends the time living in a home and usability of a home, which creates the opportunity of aging in place for people with disabilities and other family members”. The idea of ‘aging in place’ has become a popular option for families and individuals “who choose to remain in their home and neighborhood as they age. Planning and implementing changes to home as individuals’ needs change allows for periodic home customization based on changing requirements and reduces the need for future costly renovations”.
Adaptable housing: “As the needs of homeowners change, there’s a growing demand for versatile housing. Housing with flexible features that can accommodate occupants’ changing requirements easily and inexpensively will be in high demand. An adaptable home can be a standard-looking unit with features that can meet the specific needs of residents as their needs change, without costly renovations or structural changes”.
FlexHousing: “FlexHousing incorporates the option to make changes to your home easily and with minimum expense to meet the evolving needs of its occupants. This allows families or individuals to access more affordable housing, stay in their home longer and can help make these units more affordable for owners and renters. FlexHousing allow homeowners to adapt their existing house easily and economically rather than move. Any home can be a FlexHome—a suburban bungalow, high-rise condominium or a townhouse. FlexHousing is based on the principles of adaptability, accessibility and affordability:
- Adaptability: Means thinking ahead during the construction of the house. This saves time, money and stress later on by avoiding the need for renovations, for example, roughing in plumbing to accommodate future needs for bathroom conversions, or providing an unfinished space in a new home that can be converted later.
- Accessibility: Means creating a home that is user friendly to people of all ages and abilities. For example, wide doors and stairs, low windows and easy-to-grasp lever handles.
- Affordability: May mean investing money up front in order to save in the future. While the up-front costs of an accessible home may be greater compared with a normal home, homeowners benefit from the investment in the long term. For example, structural reinforcement of walls allows for the future addition of grab bars and other support features”.
Why is making an home accessible important?: “One in six Canadians (14.3%) live with a disability, and one-third of all Canadians 65 years or over have mobility problems”. A majority of people with disabilities would like to live in their homes as long as possible. Today, many single-family homes are “unaffected by accessibility requirements. Building codes include barrier-free design requirements for public buildings; they do not enforce barrier-free requirements for single-family homes. Resources are being wasted on not creating accessible homes that would meet the needs of people with disabilities. If money and resources would be invested in building homes that would meet their needs, it wouldn’t be necessary to make costly modifications to make the home accessible for persons with disabilities”.
Factors that make up an accessible home:
- “Easy access to the house for friends or family with mobility difficulties, those
with young children using strollers, those carrying large items, furniture or equipment.
- Housing becomes more age-friendly for more homeowners.
- Reduced costs for home renovations at a time of mobility changes.
- Reduced risks of fall or injuries.
- Homeowners can return to their accessible home following a change in mobility.
- An accessible home can be purchased and sold to a wider demographic.
Use of technology in the home: “The use of technology and automation can create living spaces that are convenient, energy-efficient, minimize the potential for accidents and result in a home that is adaptable to life’s changes. Persons with disabilities want the choice and independence to move throughout their homes safely. Technology enables persons with disabilities to carry out activities within their home without assistance. Devices such as switches or voice-controlled devices can assist them in opening/closing doors and windows, lighting, home security, appliances, phones etc. Technology assists in improving the safety, usability and make life easier for people with disabilities”. These technologies allow people with disabilities to:
- “Be more independent and give you greater control of your home environment;
- Make it easier to communicate with family;
- Save you time and effort;
- Improves your personal safety;
- Alerts you to emergencies through audio and visual cues; and
- Allows you to monitor your home when you are away”.
Meeting your needs: When moving into an existing home or a newly built one, its important to make sure that the home is fully accessible. “The design of an accessible home, whether it is a renovated or newly built home it should take into account the need to evacuate in an emergency. At least one accessible exit should be accessible from each floor of the home. Making a list of what works well for you and whoever you are living with and what does not. Depending on your list, decide what are the key elements of making your home accessible. You also assess how you’re best going to meet your needs. Are there technologies available to address the problems? Is there a need for personal assistance or attendant care? Would the problem be alleviated by renovating your home?”
What are your options?: “When extensive accessibility improvements are required, the question of whether it is better to renovate or build a new, custom-designed home needs to be considered. Here are a few options to consider:
- Pre-designed accessible housing: There are few sources of pre-designed accessible housing available in Canada. Some builders are now incorporating accessible features into homes, such as larger bathrooms with roll-in showers, and can accommodate ‘add-on’ accessibility features, such as residential elevators”.
- Custom-designed housing: “If you are considering a custom-designed accessible home, you should hire a design professional who is knowledgeable and experienced in the design of accessible homes. It is also a good idea to involve an occupational therapist in the design process to assist in determining your current functional needs and provide guidance on future requirements”.
Government Grants & Programs for Accessible Housing in Canada
Across Canada, there are several grants and programs that assist in creating modifications that will make your home more accessible. Visit these links for more information:
- British Columbia: Home Adaptations for Independence Program
- Alberta: Residential Access Modification Program
- Saskatchewan Home Repair Program—Adaptation for Independence Program
- Ontario’s Home & Vehicle Modifications Program
- Manitoba: Home Adaptations for Seniors Program & Residential Adaptations for Disabilities Program
- Ontario Renovates
- Ontario’s Healthy Home Renovation Tax Credit
- Quebec: Residential Adaptation Assistance Program
- New Brunswick: Housing Assistance for Persons with Disabilities
- Nova Scotia: Housing Programs for Persons with Disabilities
- Nova Scotia: Disabled Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program
- Newfoundland: Home Modification Program
- PEI Home Renovation Program
- Northwest Territories Housing Corporation: Repair and Renovations
- Nunavut Solutions Grant for People with Mobility Related Disabilities
- Yukon Territories: Accessibility Enhancement Grants